From the looks of it, the election campaign in India looks evenly poised. It can go either way. The BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is banking entirely on the party’s ideology and its hardline national security narrative to carry it through a tough electoral contest. On the other hand, Congress has left its ideological commitments ambiguous and shifted the battlefield to economy. It has connected itself to the day to day issues of the people with a steady focus on unemployment and rural distress. These are the areas where the BJP has little to show for itself. The measures like demonitization and the implementation of the GST have wrought havoc with the small scale enterprises and the jobs. Economy itself is in dire straits. Conscious of this fact, the BJP has put Hindutva at front and centre of the debate.
Both national parties, as a result, are plowing in opposite directions. And it would be interesting to see which narrative people of India will relate to and vote for.
As for the ideological contestation, if anything that election after election over the past five years has brought to light, it is the fast blurring difference between the BJP and the Congress in their ideological orientation. What has been singularly absent from the discourse is a defense of secularism which was expected from the Congress as the party claiming to champion inclusiveness. But the party instead has chosen to ply soft separatism.
So, even if the Congress were to somehow win the polls or at least enhance its seat tally, it won’t be a victory of a more inclusive vision of India. It would be a triumph for its proposed welfare measures like Nyay and its promise to focus on jobs and ameliorating rural poverty. And as of now omens look good for Congress, now that the manufactured euphoria around the Balakot strike is wearing off. As always, the performance in the Hindi heartland holds key to power at the centre. And the situation looks favourable to Congress and the wider opposition after the results of the recent state elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan. The BJP’s spectacular humbling in the polls put wind in the sails of opposition.
But as we progress towards the end of the poll phases, the PM Modi doesn’t look like the one losing out to Congress or a combination of the opposition parties. Rahul Gandhi has come a long way in politics but he still doesn’t look like a convincing match to Modi, nor does anyone in the opposition. But this hardly detracts from the crucial nature of the ongoing polls. Its outcome has a far-reaching bearing not only for the rest of India but for Kashmir also. Here’s hoping that India chooses a party or a group of parties that respects its plural character and constitutional federalism.